Friday, April 10, 2009

Out of Thin Air: Another Astroturf Nativist Group

SOURCE: Southern Poverty Law Center

"Kepping an eye on the Radical Right"

Out of Thin Air: Another Astroturf Nativist Group

Posted in Anti-Immigrant by Casey Sanchez on April 9, 2009

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) the best-oiled anti-immigration hate group in the U.S., is known for manufacturing “astroturf” groups. These outfits purport to be grassroots organizations representing certain minorities but in fact are funded and directed by FAIR and have little support in the communities they claim to represent. The first ethnically based astroturf group was Choose Black America, which claimed to represent anti-immigration blacks. Next came the Latino version, dubbed You Don’t Speak For Me! The groups were clearly intended to deflect accusations of racism that have been leveled at much of the immigration restriction movement.

Now, FAIR is up to the same sleight of hand with Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), essentially a FAIR front group that seeks to recruit progressives and environmentalists into the anti-immigration movement. (PFIR’s executive director is Leah Durant, who’s been a FAIR analyst and lawyer since 1995.) The Chicago-based Center for New Community, which first reported the launch of PFIR in the most recent edition of its E-newsletter, FAIR Exposed, called it “a gauntlet thrown down in front of the progressive community by the forces of bigotry.”

Choose Black America and You Don’t Speak For Me! have gained little traction in the mainstream media. But PFIR may enjoy more credibility, at least initially, since its board members are mostly high-powered environmentalists and Democratic activists, some of them drawn from the leadership ranks of the zero population growth movement.

One of them, Frank Morris, is the black former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a left-leaning nonprofit group that promotes health care and education programs. In 2003, Morris ran for the board of the Sierra Club along with two other immigration-restriction advocates in a failed bid to take over the leadership of the national environmental group that was orchestrated by nativist activists. (The idea, which originated many years earlier with FAIR founder John Tanton, was to create a group opposed to immigration that appeared to come from the left — another bid to avoid the charge of racism.) In addition to his role with PFIR, Morris also currently serves on the board of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nativist think tank and offshoot of FAIR that produces reports blaming immigrants for a multitude of social problems.

Morris told Hatewatch that he was approached to join the PFIR board by Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, which started life as a program of an organization run by FAIR founder Tanton. Morris declined to discuss the role of FAIR in forming PFIR, but he did dismiss the findings of an Intelligence Report exposé that showed that Tanton had for decades associated with white nationalists and their ideas. “I’m a 70-year old man with an M.I.T. PhD. I’m not going to be duped by some nativists or right-wingers or some crazy folks … who are against the interests of people in this country who I love,” said Morris. “I’ve been concerned for years about the plight of immigration on many of our low-wage American workers, many of whom, of course, are disproportionately African-American.”

Other PFIR board members include its president and chairman, William Ryerson, who is president of both the Population Institute and the Population Media Center, which produces pro-family planning soap operas for Third World countries; Jane De Lung, who for 20 years has been president of the Population Resource Center, a major pro-population control demographic analysis and public policy think tank; Kevin Lynn, who heads the Pasadena chapter of Democracy for America, a progressive political action committee; and Vernon M. Briggs Jr., emeritus professor of labor economics at Cornell University. Briggs also serves on the board of Center for Immigration Studies. Ryerson and De Lung did not respond to messages from Hatewatch.

This isn’t the first recent attempt by FAIR to bury its true agenda in the greenery of environmentalism. Last summer, another front group backed by FAIR — this one dubbed America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning — took out full-page ads in The New York Times, The Nation and numerous other liberal or left-leaning publications that warned of immigration worsening traffic congestion and destroying pristine lands.

The language on PFIR’s website is sober by comparison: “It is the position of PFIR that immigration policy should consider and mitigate the effect of immigration on overall U.S. population and population growth, domestic water and energy supplies, open space and preservation of biodiversity,” it reads. The site expresses concern about greenhouse gasses and uses the term “undocumented” instead of “illegal.”

Behind all this stands FAIR, which has its own history of sensationalized fear-mongering about immigration. That kind of rhetoric was reflected most recently in a post by FAIR board member Donald A. Collins to, a racist website named after Virginia Dare, the first white child born in the English New World colonies. “The immigration invasion is more like a cancer than a whirlwind,” Collins wrote, “but equally deadly as it advances to its present level.”

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